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May 30-June 5, 2007

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Wine Tasting

Geyser Peak Winery

By James Knight

To tell you the truth, I had a bit of an agenda. I was curious whether a minor squall in the Alexander Valley had cleared up. Some months ago, the San Francisco Chronicle found Geyser Peak's wine good, the tasting room not. Staff were uninformed, rude and "made fun of me for asking about Tannat, an unusual varietal," the spurned reviewer wrote. In subsequent letters, readers nodded with the Chron's chastisement, and GP's public relations solemnly swore that they would strive for higher standards and review their pricing strategy. How're they doin'? I figured my findings would be either (a) they'd shaped up the ship or (b) will the dolts ever learn?

Among the pioneering wineries of Alexander Valley, Geyser Peak is as old as some of the dirt there. It's gone bankrupt twice in a century and been bought and sold so many times, who can keep track? In the 1990s, the facility was in thrall to Australian overlords Penfolds, who brought in winemakers Daryl Groom and Mick Shroeter. When their Shiraz won top awards at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, it was seen as a peak moment in an Aussie invasion. So I looked forward to sampling what was new.

This was the only disappointing aspect about my Geyser Peak experience. I wanted to do the tasting that most folks would opt for, but the only available Shiraz is in the Reserve Room. For five varietal or limited selection wines, $5 is charged. But when I had difficulty deciding among the Zins, it was not a problem to add them in (they're offered as a flight of three). The tasting fee is not plowed back into a wine purchase as is typical; that's one of those pricing strategies they might wish to review.

The bar suffers more from bad feng shui than anything else. It's attractive enough, simple, but on an uncrowded afternoon, I don't know, maybe it was the hum of the refrigerators chilling the bubbly. My tasting host was friendly, but real and knowledgeable, not a know-it-all.

I should have had the award-winning 2006 California Sauvignon Blanc ($13). Instead I went for the 2005 Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($14), which is everything about Chardonnay that winemakers are running away from and claiming they never met; cloyingly sweet and buttery, all that it lacks is overpowering oak. Bottoms up to the inky 2003 Alexander Valley Petit Verdot ($20), redolent of cigar box, with the brambly flavor of Zinfandel and the structure of a serious Merlot.

When the couple to my right asked about the 2004 Alexander Valley Tannat ($25), they received no smirks or jeers, rather a concise story of its French origins and its success as Uruguay's top red. The aroma is of violets and leather, flavor of olallieberry and tar, and super dry with potential; if the tannins eventually become more lengthy and silken, this is the kind of wine you'd imagine sipping some evening in rapt contemplation, while seated in a comfortable leather-furnished study, reading ancient poetry aloud.

Lastly, the three Zins are sourced from vineyards 10, 50 and 100 years old, respectively. New associate winemaker Ondine Chattan is passionate about Zinfandel and persuaded the GP to release this unique series called XYZin.

Geyser Peak Winery, 22281 Chianti Road, Geyserville. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. $5 tasting, $10 reserve tasting. 800.255.9463.

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